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THE BIMA ARRAY: TODAY AND BEYOND

Radio Astronomy: How It Differs from Optical Astronomy

BIMA Array
BIMA Consortium

Constructed on a dry plain near Hat Creek in northern California, the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association (BIMA) array looks toward the heavens at planets and comets, giant clouds of gas and dust, and stars and galaxies.
JPEG Image (49K)

By studying the radio waves originating from these sources, astronomers can learn about their composition, structure, and motion.

Milky Way Galaxy in CO

To detect the incoming radio wave signals astronomers frequently combine individual telescopes, commonly called dishes, into an array. Computers integrate the signals from the dishes, enabling the array to function as one large telescope.
JPEG Image (13.5K); Caption, Credit and Copyright

Jack Welch, Univ. of California at Berkeley, on-camera
Movie/Sound Byte
QuickTime Movie (2.5 MB); Sound File (1.4 MB); Text

Arrays possess capabilities which extend beyond those of a single telescope. Not only can arrays correct for changes in the Earth's atmosphere that blur images; they can also resolve faraway objects in greater detail.

Planning for the Future: A Quest for Faster, More Accurate Observing

Currently the BIMA array is made up of six functioning dishes. It is designed to accommodate a maximum of twelve. Adding further dishes to the array will enhance its ability to detect more types of molecules in space during a single set of observations (often referred to as an observing "run"). Additional dishes will also enable the array to detect dimmer, smaller, and more distant objects than is currently possible.

However, a mountain stands in the path of progress. A mountain of data. Raising the number of dishes can greatly increase the amount of data generated per run.

All this data must be stored or, better still, processed and turned into new knowledge. Managing the data presents a major computational challenge. In meeting this challenge, the BIMA array will serve as a prototype for much more extensive arrays being planned for the coming decades.

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Copyright © 1995, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois


NCSA. Last modified 11/12/95.